Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit (He who is silent, when he ought to have spoken and was able to, is taken to agree)

— Latin proverb

 

The call for silence and prayer by Pope Francis is an unfortunate response to the allegations of misconduct among the world’s priests and bishops. The grand jury report that was released to the public a few weeks ago in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was an excruciatingly honest accounting of the priests who committed crimes of sexual abuse to scores of young people for decades in Pennsylvania. It was also a scourging revelation of the many times the Catholic hierarchy attempted to conceal the abuses of priests on children by colluding with fellow bishops to assist in keeping priest offenders out of the reach of law enforcement for almost half a century.

Instead of proactively accepting the report of the Pennsylvania Attorney General, it seems that Pope Francis continues superfluous rhetoric encouraging the faithful to remain silent and pray for a successful outcome to the clergy sex abuse scandals that are seemingly plaguing not just the Catholics in the United States but the entire world. Pope Francis’ admonition on the topic is equivocally unacceptable for faithful Catholics that want the scandals fully revealed and offenders removed permanently from active ministry. The presumption that silence and prayer are effective remedies to the problems afflicting the Catholic Church because of clergy sex abuse scandals, issues of homosexuality among the clergy and the inability of the American bishops to effectively deal with these problems signals a much larger problem that afflicts the Catholic Church.

The fact that the bishops of the United States are unable to effectively deal with the problems of clergy sex abuse with honesty and transparency illustrates the need for a closer examination of the men that are members of the episcopate. The revelations of the grand jury report in Pennsylvania clearly indicates that the bishops throughout Pennsylvania concealed evidence from law enforcement agencies, conspired to protect the rights of the accused clergy and colluded among their ranks to determine a sort of clerical silence in the hopes the atrocities of the sex scandals would simply just go away.

Now, the same lack of credulity comes to us from the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. Silence and prayer are not components of the solution to the problems that afflict the Catholic Church throughout the world when it comes to restoring trust and institutional credibility to a battered Catholic Church. The fact that Francis has made the statement regarding the need for more prayer and meditative silence as a solution to the problem of clergy sex abuse indicates clearly the octogenarian Pope is perhaps unable and unwilling to effectively deal with the problems of sex abuse among the clergy and the ineptitude of the American bishops to truthfully inform American Catholics regarding the ignoble acts committed by their clergy.

The papacy of Pope Francis from inception has been a train wreck. The Holy Father has obfuscated matters of faith and morals in a manner that makes most Catholics scratch their heads and wonder if the really comprehends what he says. The fact that Pope Francis has sided in favor of relaxed moral norms when it comes to an acceptance of homosexuality in opposition to that which the Church has consistently taught for centuries illustrates the fact that Pope Francis’ agenda is to shake the moral norms of the Church in favor of an inclusionary manner of pastoral leadership. In addition to the homosexuality question, Francis has indicated it is acceptable for a remarried divorced Catholic to partake in the Eucharist if they are remarried; a clear departure from Catholic teachings of the past. A few weeks ago, Pope Francis mandated a change in the Catholic Catechism to modify the Church’s teachings on capitol punishment. For almost two millennia, the Church has recognized the rights of the state to execute prisoners that have violated moral and ethical norms of our global society. Francis has ordered the Catholic Catechism modified to state that it is never morally acceptable for the Church or Catholics to endorse and or accept capitol punishment. While there were many outcries from the world’s Catholic theologians against this change, the Holy See is reluctant to make any further clarifications on the matter. Finally, the dubbia presented by four members of the College of Cardinals regarding questions of Catholic orthodoxy as presented in Amoris Laetitia remain without a response from Pope Francis. All these points of dissent reveal the fact that Pope Francis is systematically changing the Catholic Church without collegial support or for that matter positive input from the world’s bishops. The papal pronouncement regarding the need for silence and prayer as a speculative cure for the maladies of the clergy sex abuse crisis clearly indicates that Pope Francis’ papacy is ineffectual in providing leadership to solve the global crisis.

Modern Catholics in the United States now need to ask the question of how they might bring the clergy sex abuse scandal to a conclusion. To start, Catholic need to petition their local bishops and demand transparency on all the sexual abuse issues that might exist in their local diocese. If denied this information, then the faithful laity of the Catholic Church should take further steps to encourage honesty on the matters of clergy sex abuse…stop contributions until full disclosure is made on the part of the local diocese. Catholics of the 21st century no longer must adhere to the maxim, “Pray, Pay and Obey.”  The hierarchy of a local diocese needs to answer to the questions of the local community of faith and that includes the laity. While the thoughts of withholding donations to the Church is extreme, perhaps it is the only way the bishops will understand the urgency required to solve the clergy sex abuse problem in the American Catholic Church, indeed the global Church.

American Catholics are part of the larger Universal Church and indeed are obedient to Pope Francis as Peter’s successor. However, the papacy in the modern world needs to operate more openly and honestly if it hopes to endure for another millennium. Pope Francis’ agenda for modifying the Church has unfortunately created a chasm of discontent and division among both the clergy and the laity. He has eschewed the traditional garb associated with the papacy, embraced ideological concepts that are more consistent with Socialism rather than Catholicism and has plunged the Church into a revived debate on the issues of Modernism regarding the sacred liturgy. While Francis’ papacy continues into his octogenarian years perhaps it is time to consider parameters that need to be established prior to the next conclave that will elect his successor. One needs to ask the question, is Francis too old to remain pope? Perhaps there is a real need to elect a pope that is in the stages of early middle age. Also, it is perhaps time to consider a papal term limit as well. Pope St. John Paul II’s papacy lingered on forever, marked with Parkinson’s Disease. One needs to ask the question, was John Paul II, in full command of the governance of the Church until his death? We will unfortunately never know the realities of the last years of John Paul’s papacy and the daily workings of the Papal Household. If indeed, bishops of the world need to tender their resignations to the Holy See at age 75 and cardinals at 80, maybe it is appropriate to set the age limit for a pontiff to the same stringent requirements. The papacy is not a constitutional monarchy as operational in the United Kingdom. The papacy is quasi-monarchial, and the Bishop of Rome is the absolute final voice in matters of faith and morals. The adage, Roma locutus est, causa finita est, does not provide theological consistency with the notion of subsidiarity as proclaimed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. We are still unfolding and extrapolating the richness of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council half a century after the conclusion of the great event. Perhaps it is past due for the universal Church to reexamine the text of Gaudium et Spes for direction in the matter of understanding the Church in the modern world and the social and political context for the Church’s activities in the 21st century.

The Fathers of Vatican II envisioned a Catholic Church of the future as an entity that would lead the People of God towards eschatological fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. They had no realizations of the scandals involving members of Her clergy regarding the sexual abuse of minors. They had no inclinations of understanding the facts that the American bishops concealed, conspired and colluded their activities against law enforcement and other civil authorities to hide the nefarious activities of some clergy as predators of children. However, they did indeed provide the resources and tools with which the Church could address these issues and that is namely found in their documents, solemnly promulgated as the roadmap for the Church’s pastoral activities. Pope Francis was not a Father of the Second Vatican Council, he was still a seminary student when the council convened. However, in the light of the ineffectual activities of his papacy, it is indeed time to renew the Spirit of the Church and restore the credibility of the Church through prayer and the Eucharist.

While Pope Francis’ statement on the way to solve the abuse, crisis was anemic to put it mildly, his recommendation is not without merit. Prayer and silence are not the methodology the Church needs to solve the clergy sex abuse crisis, it is a tool and resource that should be part of the solution. The only real solution that will solve problems that plague the Church today is a totally open admission of institutional guilt on the part of the Church and Her hierarchy, expungement of all clergy, bishops, priests and laity alike that have transgressed against children and finally reparation for these offenses through fiduciary settlements to the victims and the promise this ignominious tragedy will never be tolerated again by the Church, the Body of Christ.

Pope Francis’ shortsighted vision for the successful reparation to all victims of clergy abuse is merely part of the solution not the ultimate satisfaction required by the juridical process that continues to unfold on the atrocities committed by clergy on minors in the Church. Francis has shown clearly that the leadership of the Church simply does not get it about the scale and scope of the sex scandals worldwide. The sooner Pope Francis understands the complexities of the matter, perhaps then a realistic, Mea maxima culpa!, will follow from Peter’s successor.

 

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